Asian carp: Midwest states welcome new US efforts -- but still want more

The Obama administration has announced 13 additional measures to address concerns about a potential Asian carp migration. But many Midwest states are demanding a permanent barrier to separate the Mississippi River from Lake Michigan.

M. Spencer Green/File/AP
In this Jan. 12 file photo, Asian bighead carp swim in an exhibit at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.

A series of new measures to deal with a possible Asian carp infestation of the Great Lakes omits what many Midwest states are demanding: a permanent barrier to separate the Mississippi River from Lake Michigan.

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced 13 additional measures to a framework it launched earlier this year, which is designed to study the potential migration of the invasive species into the Great Lakes and to explore monitoring technology that could be used to prevent such a migration. If the fish reaches Lake Michigan, state leaders and environmentalists are concerned that the Great Lakes ecosystem would be at risk, as well as the region’s commercial fishing industry and tourism.

Among the new projects announced Thursday: expanding a lab in La Crosse, Wis., used to test DNA pulled from Great Lakes waters; developing alternative traps and net designs to catch the fish; and assessing the movement of barges operating between the electric barriers that are in place to keep the fish from entering Lake Michigan.

The new projects cost $47 million, which is in addition to $78 million for projects that the federal government launched in February.

Thursday’s announcement comes during a period of contention among the groups affected by this issue. On the one side are those who believe that drastic measures – such as creating a permanent barrier – should not be taken until more proof is shown about the risk posed by Asian carp. On the other side are those who say the Obama administration is dragging its feet and is acting to protect barge interests, which they say are against a permanent closure of the locks on the Calumet-Sag Channel and Chicago River. Those waterways connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River, where the Asian carp originated.

US Rep. Dave Camp (R) of Michigan applauded the new measures but added, “The Great Lakes remain at risk as long as the locks are open.” He also said, “The only sure way to keep Asian carp out of the lakes is to close the locks and achieve permanent hydrological separation.”

Representative Camp has partnered with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan in introducing two bills, the CARP Act and the Permanent Prevention of Asian Carp Act, which pursue permanent separation.

On Dec. 2, a federal court in Chicago denied a request by Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to close the locks, which they say is the most reliable way to prevent the spread of the species. In his ruling, Judge Robert Dow said that the states had not established “a showing of irreparable harm” if the locks were to remain open.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox called the ruling “a slap in the face to Great Lakes citizens genuinely concerned about preserving their livelihood.” The collective states will appeal the ruling, Mr. Cox said this week. A status hearing is scheduled for Jan. 7.

The new projects announced by the Obama administration are separate from a study by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is looking at how to lessen the impact of Asian carp. That study isn’t due in 2012 – a lengthy time frame that has caused contention.

Asian carp is even becoming a topic of debate in the Chicago mayoral race. On Thursday, candidate Rahm Emanuel said in a statement he was “encouraged” by the new federal measures and said he would “continue to bring all necessary resources to bear to protect Lake Michigan” if elected mayor.

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